Lack of Interest Enabled by an Incoherent System

By Bill Ivey, Director, Curb Center, Vanderbilt University

Late in my tenure as NEA chairman I awakened to the the truth that copyright extension, the DMCA, the demise of the USIA, and the 1996 Telecom Act had profoundly reshaped our cultural system, and no one from the "arts community" had been engaged in the runnup to these legislative, regulatory, and administrative transformations.  What had passed for policy work in the arts during the Clinton administration had been about re-energizing the Arts Endowment, and while it was good to see the NEA budget grow again, the lack of interest in the system in which art gets created, distributed, consumed, and preserved was, to say the least, alarming.

Two reasons jump out at me:  First, the policy arenas that define the US cultural system -- intellectual property, fair use, union contracts, media ownership, Internet opennesss and access, licensing agreements, mergers within the arts industries, the promotion of American entertainment products abroad, trademark, name-and-likeness rights -- are legalistic, technical, complex, and take both artists and nonprofit arts organizations into territory where few feel at ease.  Also, I suspect that many fine arts nonprofits have viewed laws and regulations that determine the character of our cultural system as a slightly-distasteful necessity generated by the nasty "commercial" sector: thus hands off.

Second, when it comes to advocacy, there's no "there there" to push against.  With copyright housed in the Library of Congress, trademark in its own department, mergers approved by Dept. of Justice and the FTC, movies and recordings promoted abroad by the Office of the US Trade Representative, nonprofit funding in the NEA, broadcasting with the FCC, the Internet with...Well, you get my point.  We've evolved some very capable advocacy groups over the past decade (many represented in this blog), but at the end of the day, they can only nibble away at their designated issue.  In the big picture no single entity in the arts has emerged to speak for the American people in addressing the big question of balancing market forces against the public's interest in a vibrant, open cultural life.  Friends on this blog will not be surprised when they see me state again that we need a department of cultural affairs.  Until we have a central hub that can engage the issues affecting America's expressive life the way the EPA centers environmental debate, we'll be punching pillows and the marketplace will rule.

July 19, 2010 7:08 AM | | Comments (0) |

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This Conversation Are the terms "Art" and "Culture" tough enough to frame a public policy carve-out for the 21st century? Are the old familiar words, weighted with multiple meanings and unhelpful preconceptions, simply no longer useful in analysis or advocacy? In his book, Arts, Inc., Bill Ivey advances "Expressive Life" as a new, expanded policy arena - a frame sufficiently robust to stand proudly beside "Work Life," "Family Life," "Education," and "The Environment." Is Ivey on the right track, or more

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